As a decade-long carnivore and a passionate home cook, I’ve cooked pretty much every kind of meat.
But one cut that always proved difficult was pork knuckle. Making them succulent enough but still maintaining that crispy skin is a challenge.
I spent years trying out different recipes. I experimented with different herbs, spices, and cooking processes to get the optimal flavor and texture.
I’ll guide you through the step-by-step process, so you’ll easily make this delectable dish.
What is a Pork Knuckle?
A pork knuckle is the upper part of the pig’s leg. It’s a common misconception that these are pigs’ trotters or feet, but that’s not true.
Pork knuckle is also called pig knuckle, pork shanks, ham hock, and pork hock. You can get knuckles from the front and rear pig legs.
Knuckles taken from the front legs are smaller and usually smoked to make smoked ham hocks.
Knuckles taken from the rear leg are bigger and meatier, and this is what you want when cooking knuckles at home.
This is a popular dish in parts of Germany and Austria called Schweinshaxen. You can even order a German pork knuckle at pubs.
Generally, you can’t find pork shank at regular supermarkets, but you can get a pork knuckle at a local butcher shop.
Cooking a Crispy Pork Knuckle
Here’s how to get that crispy exterior when cooking pork knuckles:
- Leave the ham hock uncovered in your fridge overnight so the skin dries out. This also goes for other recipes that call for crispy skin, such as pork belly and pork shoulder.
- Prick the skin with a small sharp knife. This trick results in crackling crispy skin.
- Use skewers to stretch the skin and keep it flat. If you don’t use the skewers, the skin will shrink during the roasting. Shrinking makes crevices, which results in a bad crackling effect.
Overall, getting crispy skin on your pork knuckle is the most challenging part of this recipe.
Ideally, you want tender meat and crackling, bubbly skin that shatters under your teeth. You don’t want hard skin where your teeth are more likely to shatter.
The reason this is difficult to achieve is the shape of the pork knuckle. This cut isn’t flat and level, so the heat distribution isn’t even.
The cut is oriented vertically, so there’s a height and temperature difference when cooking. Also, the skin tends to shrink as it roasts, which leads to creases and folds. But if you follow the steps above, you’ll have a crackling pork hock.
Now that you know what is knuckle pork hock and how to get it crackling, let’s get into the recipe.
- Prep Time: 10 minutes + marinate overnight
- Cook Time: 3 hours
- Total Time: 3 hours and 10 minutes + marinate time
- Number of Servings: 2
- 2.5 lb pork knuckle
- 1 tablespoon vinegar
- 1 teaspoon juniper berries
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon brown sweetener
- 1/4 tablespoon xanthan gum or 2 tablespoons cornflour
- Prepare the pork hock skin. Prick small holes with a sharp knife. Make sure not to pierce the flesh.
- Brush vinegar on the pork flesh while avoiding the skin.
- Use a mortar and combine salt, pepper, caraway seeds, juniper berries, and fennel seeds. Crush with a pestle until coarse. You can also pulse in a food processor if you prefer.
- Rub the pork hocks with spices. Make sure to get into all cracks and crevices.
- Skewer the pork knuckle to stretch the skin. Use two metal skewers and place them so they form an X near the knuckle base.
- Place the pork hocks on a plate and leave overnight in the fridge.
- When it’s cooking time, preheat your oven to 180 degrees.
- Make the gravy. Put all ingredients in a baking dish and put a wire rack on top. Place the pork hocks on the rack so it sits upright.
- Roast the German pork knuckle for three hours. Then remove the pork from the oven. Increase the temperature to 500 degrees. Place the pork hocks on a lined baking tray. Brush with oil or vinegar, and bake for an additional half an hour until the skin turns golden and crisps. Rotate after 15 minutes. In case the liquid gets too low, top it with water.
- Rest the pork knuckle for 10 minutes.
- Make the gravy. Strain the liquid into a saucepan. You should have around 2 cups. Bring the liquid to a simmer, and add xanthan gum or cornstarch. Add salt and sugar. Simmer for two minutes or until the liquid thickens.
Here’s what to keep in mind for the best pork knuckle results:
- Use dark German beer for German beer gravy and authentic German pork knuckle taste. It gives a richness of flavor and color. If you can’t find German beer, most dark beers, porters, or stouts work, but avoid very bitter beers.
- I like to brush the knuckle’s skin with a mix of honey and soy sauce at the end of baking. This enhances the skin’s flavor. However, honey tends to burn quickly, so keep an eye on the meat.
- Don’t let the pork knuckle rest too long. If it cools, the skin will stiffen and won’t be as appetizing.
- Make sure to marinate the meat ahead of time for a rich taste. Roasted pork hock has a bland taste without marinating.
- Be careful when buying unsmoked pork hocks, as some are brined. Light brine may still work, but I recommend using unbrined, raw knuckles.
- Brush the German pork hock with vinegar to lower the strong pork smell.
- Choose kosher salt instead of table one. Table salt grains are too fine and will make the roasted ham hock too salty.
- Juniper berries are optional but are a traditional ingredient in German pork hocks.
- If you don’t have metal skewers, use wooden or bamboo ones.
- Roasted pork knuckle is best served with potato dumplings, mashed potatoes, coleslaw, or cucumber salad.
- You can also use gelatin to thicken the gravy. It’s full of health benefits and improves skin, nails, hair, and gut health .
- Calories: 574
- Total Carbs: 13g
- Protein: 45g
- Fat: 35g
- Fiber: 2g
- Net Carbs: 0
Should You Blanch Pork Knuckles?
You should blanch pork knuckles if you want to reduce impurities and fat. Blanching involves briefly boiling the pork knuckle in water, draining, and rinsing before roasting.
It removes contaminants from the meat, such as coagulated blood, and you have a cleaner taste. It also renders excess fat.
Overall, whether you want to blanch or not is up to you. My pork knuckle recipe doesn’t call for blanching, but I’ve seen some that do.
My advice is to try roasting pork knuckles with and without blanching to find out what flavor you like best.
“Blanching removes some surface dirt and microorganisms, brightens color, and helps slow vitamin losses.”
- Clemson University, College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences
Here’s how to blanche step-by-step:
- Place the pork knuckle in water to remove impurities and blood.
- If you see any hairs on the knuckle, remove them with a tweezer or burn them with a blowtorch.
- Place the knuckle in a pot and fill it with enough water so it’s submerged.
- Add onions, garlic cloves, and rice wine to water to remove the smell of pork.
- Bring the water to a boil and blanch for about five minutes. Turn the pork a few times.
- Remove the knuckle from the water and clean under running water.
- Start with the recipe above and make roasted pork
What Are Pork Knuckles Used for?
Pork knuckles are versatile cuts of meat used in soups, broths, stews, and roasts. They can be baked or smoked hocks.
Are Pork Knuckles Healthy?
Yes, pork knuckles are healthy. They are helpful for anemia and osteoporosis and are a rich source of vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium, potassium, sodium, and Vitamins B3, B7, and B9.
What Do Pork Knuckles Taste Like?
Pork knuckles taste rich, savory, and porky. Their flavor is more intense compared to leaner cuts because they have more fat and connective tissue. The exact taste of pork chops depends on the gravy, spices, and seasonings used.
Is Knuckle Meat Tough?
Yes, knuckle meat is tough. It’s chewy and sinewy and full of connective tissue. It comes from an area of the animal that bears a large portion of the pig’s weight, so the muscles are well exercised. It should be slow-roasted for the best flavor.
Have You Tried Cooking Pork Knuckles This Way?
Preheat oven and cook pork knuckles in a roasting pan. Slow roast the meat to get crackling pork knuckle skin. Serve with delicious gravy for a rich flavor.
If you want to make it as a traditional Bavarian dish, add some dark beer to the gravy.
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